Monday, June 16, 2008

Accelerating Slowly

March, 1993. Day Two at my first real, honest-to-goodness career job. I’d survived Day One with the requisite paperwork, video from the CEO, and rah-rah pitch from HR. Now I was ready to really experience work. My boss met me at the HR building.

“Congratulations,” he said. “And, you are already behind. I’ve arranged for you to get a crash course in the HR concepts you will need to know. You’ve got 1:1s with each of the recent college grads hired in HR in the last 2 years, and with the leader of every HR area. I’ve arranged for you to have 2 days with the compensation manager since you’ll be running the focal in about 6 weeks and I want you to be ready. I’ve set you up with a temporary office over here; so that you will closer to the people you are meeting with. Also, I ordered all the most current literature on HR.” He pointed to a stack of 15 books in the corner of the desk. “I’m heading to Bangkok for 2 weeks. When I get back, your cube in our business unit will be ready, and we can start getting you oriented to the line.”

Wow. I remember feeling overwhelmed and strangely let down at the same time. I just finished 4 years of college, and you just handed me enough reading material for a typical semester class? I won’t meet my client group for another 2 weeks? I’m stuck hanging out in a different work group? Wait, you’re going where? For how long? Huh?

Looking back, my manager did me a great favor. Yes, it was awkward to not have my boss around. It was also strange to be working in a temporary office instead of where I would eventually be. But, this two week period let me build relationships with the people I would need to rely on in my job as a generalist. Meeting the HR leaders when I didn’t have a specific agenda, and when I wasn’t interviewing for the job, let us get to know each other in an easier environment. They also were looking out for me, since they knew my boss was out of town. I met my peers (other college hires) who had similar jobs, and could advise me informally. As for the literature, I read most of the books in the 2 weeks, since I didn’t have any other deliverables. Several of them were key to the work I was asked to do in the first 6 months of my job. I still have some of those books on my desk today. Most importantly, not being with my client group meant I had time to learn the company practices before being asked to interpret them. When I was introduced 2 weeks later, I wasn’t in Orientation Overload, and could immediately show some small wins within the group.

Onboarding is not a science. Balancing the need for learning with the need for execution is tough – especially when a position has been held open for a long period of time. Dedicating extra time for new hires to meet people, to learn from those interactions, and to get a sense of how things are done leads to a more informed employee, and potentially a more engaged one as well. Especially in groups where the new hire will be a service provider with internal constituents, it helps to have them start out with this grounding in company practices. The deliverables will still be there in 2 weeks, and the new employee will be better able to achieve them with a network of contacts and foundation of knowledge.

What other suggestions would you offer for Onboarding?

[Photo credit: davidking]

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